The story behind our Setae Too dress

Every garment has a story behind it. Sometimes that story can be sad because no matter how beautiful the garment may be, as soon as you start to peel back the layers, you realise that there has been either a social or environmental injustice (or both) committed to make it. Sometimes however, there is a jewel of a story that is both inspiring and which offers a solution to a problem that deserves to be shared. That story starts with my commitment and promise to introduce at least one sustaianble fabric into each new collection I produce. For the ‘Ode to the Bee – Episode Two’ collection I have done just that. Over 95% of the fabrics I have sourced are sustainable, including rescued end of stock fabrics that would otherwise have ended up in landfill. But the jewel here is the silk I have sourced to make the Setae Too dress. Behind this silk is a story of social enterprise, environmental sustainability and empowerment all of which resides in the vision of Chandra Prakash Jha the founder of Cocccon an Indian based social enterprise turned sustainable fabric manufacturer. This is his story….

What makes silk from Cocccon silk different from conventional silk?

We produce Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified and assured organic, peace silk using a process that we have specially developed which respects and protects the environment. This means that that we don’t use any environmentally damaging chemicals or pesticides to rear the silk worms allowing them to develop naturally and organically into silk cocoons.

Silk worm feeding on an Arjun tree

Unlike conventional silk production where silk worms are killed to extract the silk from the cocoons before they hatch, (this is done to ensure that the single silk of strand making up the cocoon which is 1000m long, is not broken), we allow the silk worms to hatch first.

Silk cocoons and hatched silk moth

The empty cocoons are then taken through a process called ‘degumming’ which removes impurities from the raw silk. In this process we also avoid using any toxic materials such as heavy metals (which are both harmful to health and the environment) that are sometimes used in conventional silk production. After ‘degumming’ the silk is processed to produce the silk yarn which is done either manually or with machines that are solar powered meaning that 70% of our spinning and weaving operations are zero-carbon. Our digital printing process is also GOTS certified meaning that all the inks used to print onto the peace silk are environmentally friendly and not harmful to human health. We operate a closed loop-system so we don’t generate any waste with all waste water from printing being recycled for reuse.

Describe what makes Cocccon different from conventional silk producers?

We take a completely holistic approach towards textile production paying attention to the entire production process to ensure we minimise our impact on the environment whilst also generating a positive social impact that benefits our skilled workers and local communities.

How have employees benefited from Cocccon?

Our production is based in rural Jharkhand, eastern India. From the onset of our project we have focused on generating employment through our activities that addressed local poverty by providing our workers with safe and dignified working conditions and wages. Our workers are highly skilled artisans earning a living wage that enables them to send their children to school and enjoy a good standard of living.

Shekhar an artisan weaver. He was born unable to speak or hear making it difficult to get an education. He joined Cocccon in 2012 as a trainee weaver. Now he is one of the best weavers able to produce some of the most complicated silk textiles. He has two daughters and plans to send both to school.

To promote gender equality in a male dominated society, we pay our female workers the same wage as men for equivalent work.

The percentage of women weavers at Cocccon rose from 4% to 35% in 4 years. They earn the same wage as their male colleagues and with free training and skill training from Cocccon they are able to enjoy financial independence. Cocccon's goal is to increase its female to male ration to 50:50 by 2019.

We’ve worked with the local villages to provide both financial and technical support to improve sanitary conditions in their homes and we are in the process of starting the Titli Foundation, an initiative to provide nursery and schooling for the children of our weavers and silk farmers.

How have local communities benefited from Cocccon?

In 2011 we took over a conventional silk farm where the soil was completely degraded due to poor farming techniques and the overuse of chemicals. Our goal was to bring back life into the land by nurturing and using traditional, organic land management methods which would enable us to support the trees that the silk worms fed on.

The farmers behind Cocccon silk cultivation with founder of Cocccon Chandra Prakash Jah responsible for regenerating biodiversity on dead-soil land.

We used innovative methods to protect the trees and the silk worms by covering them in large nets and where necessary only using plant derived, natural pesticides to manage any potential pest outbreaks without harming the silk worms or the environment.

Our approach resulted in a proliferation of biodiversity on land that was previously almost dead, including the return of various natural grasses and micro-organisms enabling us to provide cattle feed for local farmers. Additionally, we used the silkworm litter as organic fertilizer which was used by local farmers to produce rice and after many years of trialling, we had our first successful rice crop in 2017-2018. This has been a hugely positive outcome for the local farmers who now have the potential for self-sufficiency in terms of providing food for their families and an income from rice cultivation. Project Cocccon is encouraging local farmers to become entrepreneurs, assisting them to launch their own brand of organic rice for the commercial market.

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